It was late at night and I was trawling through Twitter looking for interesting links about academic writing. I tapped, I scrolled, I skimmed. I flipped from one site to the next, a whirling dervish, and even while writing this I find myself flipping to the net in an effort to address my own ignorance- I use the term whirling dervish without even knowing where it comes from, an expression from my youth. So again, I am scanning, scrolling, eyes flying through information and I now wonder if I’ll ever use this expression again in this way, as now the concept of the whirling dervish has been fundamentally transformed.
A digression? An interruption? A juncture?
My action is all of these things – is this positive or a negative though?
I’ve been pondering this for the last couple of weeks after meeting with a colleague who said she struggles to concentrate on a paper for any length of time. Them last week I was meeting with Siobhan O’Dwyer who runs virtual shut up and write sessions (which you can find on Twitter @suwtues). We were talking about our reading and writing habits, pondering whether having a world at our fingertips makes us more likely to develop different types of skills and if this development of a skill set is at the expense of others?
All of this made me think about my own habits- am I engaging in procrastiwriting and procrastireading techniques- the reading and writing I do when I’m not doing ‘proper’ reading or writing? My reading on twitter, blogs, from books about writing – is this just procrastireading? Reading that takes me away from reading journal articles that might inform my academic writing? Is this blog, my home farm blog, my tweets, my Facebook posts, my scrawls in my writing journal – is this really procrastiwriting? Writing that takes me away from the act of writing journal articles, books, grant applications – the types of writing that will foster my career ( according to the rules of the game).
So is this writing or reading a waste of time? And if I believe it is valuable why do I refer to this as procrastiwriting or procrastireading?
I ponder on this for a while before coming to the conclusion that procrastireading and writing is important. This writing and reading does play a central role in enabling me to conceptualise the work I’m doing to make connections between my ideas and those of others, it enables me to jump into the stream and then out again, at will. It enables me, as Laurel Richardson argues to write (and read) myself into understanding. For me, there is a great pleasure that comes from reading about other people’s writing processes, particularly the habits and processes of other academic writers. It is reassuring to hear the tales of others as they struggle over words, twist concepts into a shape that will effectively frame their research, and return time and time again to pesky, difficult concepts. So while some of what I do might seem mindless- it is an act of translation, as I read and interpret their processes. I am a voyeur, a collector, a processor. I am all of these things until I morph and become a creator, engaged in an assemblage of facts, minutiae and trivia until I then become a purveyor, a seller of ideas.
Then the cycle begins once more. A bower bird of electronica, I retweet, favourite, like, upload, bookmark, copy, paste and pin. I fall in and out of the stream. I am connected, disconnected, present and absent.
And you? Reading this, are you procrastireading? Or are you engaged in a dialogue? A dialogue, not with me, but with the ideas in your head? How do the puzzle pieces fit together for you in this reading and writing process?